I received an email asking me lots of interesting questions about prayer in general and my prayer life in particular. I share the answers here for the perusal of all, and, if you are motivated, you are welcome to reply to some or all of the questions in the comments.
I will be posting my answers one at a time, to prevent teal deer overpopulation as well as to help keep the discussion on track.
1. What does prayer mean to you?
2. What do you consider to be the mode/communication method that God communicates with you (other people, gut instincts, random thought or events, Bible, etc)
3. What does your prayer life / devotional consist of?
4. What extras do you do (ie fasting or persistent prayer) have you done [sic] and how effective has it been for you?
5. How, what, when, why do you find yourself reading the Bible? (4 questions there)
6. How do you notice and identify the small things that shows you God’s love specifically to you? (such as what events occur that make you stop and think)
7. Are your prayers more conversational, spontaneous, Scripture based, or the ritual Mass prayers?
8. How has your prayer life changed? Beginning – middle – now
9. How do you deal with prayers and the concept of ‘Thy will be done’ and that prayers might be going against that?
10. How do you distinguish between a ‘no’ and ‘maybe later’ answer from God?
1. What does prayer mean to you?
My first thought is that prayer is a form of communication just as speaking and writing are forms of communication. It has its own parameters, characteristics, freedoms, and limitations. Prayer has a more limited audience than other forms of communication – for example, if you and your best friend are together, you could communicate by speaking or by passing notes, but you can’t pray silently to your friend and expect the message to be received. Prayer is interesting because it can use other forms of communication. You can pray by writing, pray by speaking, and pray by thinking (silent prayer). You can probably even pray by semaphore or interpretive dance or morse code, but that might get pretty dicey. Deaf people might pray using sign language, if they want. Some people will talk about how certain actions they do are prayers, and I don’t necessarily disagree with them, but it involves shades of meaning and conceptions of prayer that I don’t want to delve into here.
I suppose prayer might not be defined so well as a particular medium of communication. Perhaps it has more to do with content and recipient. Traditionally, prayers have been lumped into four groups: prayers of praise and/or adoration, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of expiation (wherein we acknowledge our sinfulness and express our contrition – rather like having that apology conversation with someone we have wronged), and prayers of petition (wherein we ask for stuff). As for the recipient, we pray to God, the angels, and the saints.
I want to make an important distinction here. Prayer is not the same as worship. Prayer is merely communication. People can pray insults just as easily as they can speak them. Praying to someone does not equal worshiping someone. It is confusion over this distinction that creates all kinds of false accusations from mainline Protestants and assorted others. I pray to Mary. I do NOT worship her.